It’s hard to believe it’s been ten long years since John Carpenter has had a feature film in theaters, but yes, Master of Horror Carpenter’s last directorial effort, Ghosts of Mars, was released way back in 2001. Since then genre fans have been clamoring for his return to the helm despite the fact that Mars wasn’t exactly a crowning achievement in the directing department.
Well, the wait is almost over for legions of Carpenter fans as his latest feature, The Ward (review here), is set to debut on VOD providers today and will then be hitting theaters on July 8th. Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to attend the press conference for The Ward, where both Carpenter and the film’s star, Amber Heard (Drive Angry 3D, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), talked about his return to feature film directing, what brought both of them on board the ambitious project and Heard’s thoughts on why Carpenter is still a viable Master of Horror even after working for almost five decades in Hollywood.
Carpenter kicked off the press conference by discussing the reasoning behind his ten-year feature film sabbatical and how he knew it was time to come back to the horror genre when he read the script for The Ward.
“I hadn’t made a movie since 2001, and frankly, I had to stop,” explained Carpenter. “I got burned out on the movie business. I didn’t want to do any more, I thought about quitting. It was Amber who brought me back from the dead, but this movie in particular was perfect. I started on the road back when I did two episodes for “Masters of Horror,” and directing was fun again because I didn’t have much responsibility. It was an hour of footage so it wasn’t a giant shoot. So when The Ward came along, it was a perfect situation with an ensemble cast with a limited location. There was a claustrophobic feel to it so I thought it was a good feel for my first time back directing a feature.”
So what exactly happened in Carpenter’s life back in 2001 to make him decide to take a step out of the Hollywood machine and focus on other non-feature projects? “The movie business as a whole burned me out. I’ve been doing this for 40-plus years, and I’ve been doing it back to back to back to back. Not only sometimes writing and directing but also doing the music so what you end up giving up is your private life. You have none, and I just thought I couldn’t do it anymore. Plus, it also didn’t help that Ghosts of Mars tanked like the Titanic.”
But once the iconic director got back on the directing horse, he realized very quickly that filmmaking, no matter how long you’ve been doing it, can give anyone a case of the jitters at first.
“Everybody gets scared when they make a movie and they’re lying to you if they tell you otherwise. But I found my groove about ten minutes after we started the first day. Once you get past that first rehearsal, you realize everything’s going to be fine. You light it, I can go get a cup of coffee and I know it’s going to be all good.”
In The Ward Heard plays Kristen, a young woman with no memory, who, after burning down a house, gets locked up in a mysterious mental hospital that seems to be harboring some very dark secrets. Even though The Ward definitely has a throwback vibe to it, Heard discussed how she made sure her performance as Kristen felt fresh for genre fans.
“Personally, there weren’t any other pieces of movies I wanted to bring with me for this role,” explained Heard. “I try to find the character and relate to her and forget about all the other stuff – or just find the truth in the character. I went to set and just tried to tell our story and had fun doing it. I luckily got to work with John, who is the undoubtedly the best at what he does still.”
Heard, who described herself as a huge genre fan (and with an acting pedigree like hers, this writer would have to agree with her on this topic), went on to discuss just what it is about Carpenter that makes him an iconic storyteller and filmmaker. “John’s a living legend, and when I heard he was interested in making The Ward, I sat down with him and couldn’t believe I was going to work with him. I’m a horror and genre fan and I like making these kinds of movies. I was actually thinking of taking a break from making genre films until I sat down with John so there went the end of that break.”
With The Ward set to make its VOD debut, is Carpenter looking to take the directorial reigns again anytime soon? “I had a good time making The Ward so sure, if I get the right story and the right budget, I’d love to direct more. But if you have an ambitious story, you need money because when you do something low budget, you have to have realistic expectations of what you’re going to get back in return. Right now there is a big vogue in Hollywood, and it’s the Blair Witch vogue where studios are saying ‘let’s make a movie for nothing and we’ll market it and make a bunch of money.’ I’m not interested in that; that’s a little too rough for me.”
While Carpenter did say he had no definite projects on the horizon, he is currently working on putting together a Gothic Western project that he’s hoping to direct sometime in the future. Let’s hope it’s not another ten years before Carpenter’s follow-up to The Ward!
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